June 08, 2006 GMT
I go to the Baņos

Going to Ecuador doesn't mean a mandatory trip to the Baņos. Now I know what you're thinking: a trip to the baņos is necessary everyday, no matter where you are. But I am talking about a different kind of Baņos. This trip takes you to the town officially known as Baņos de Santa Aguas, after the healing hot springs nearby. This is selfsame Tropical-Banff-with-No-Rules town that bills itself 'the Gateway to the Amazon'. Tour companies rule.

Perched within a deep river canyon on a shelf of land between the Rio Pastaza and the sometimes active volcano Tungurahua, Baņos means living life a bit on the edge. In 1999, Baņos had to be evacuated because Tungurahua, only 8 km distant, started venting big steam and ash. Since then things have returned to normal, normal meaning river rafting. volcano climbing, rappeling down waterfalls (huh?), hiking, biking, quading, dirtbiking or just plain drinking your face off in one of the zillion pubs/restaurants in town. No rules means cruising around town on your rented quad with your hair wafting in the wind. The Ozzies love it.


Bloody hell! Another parade? OK drop what I'm doing, which is usually not too demanding, and find a place on the sidewalk to see what's happening this time. What are these clowns up to now? Oh, they are clowns. Now if they were just handing out cervezas...


A bunch of us decide to ride bicycles down to the Rio Verde. It takes a half day of mostly coasting and sightseeing to get to the little town of Rio Verde.



After a round of thirst quencing cervezas, a toy Toyota truck takes us back uphill to Baņos. Cost per passenger, and we all chose to ride in the back, is $1.50 per hombre.

One of the things popular in Ecuador, don't ask me why, is barbequed guinea pig. Cuy as it's known around these parts, is bred for the spit. A closer look shows the cuys all have the same frozen scream on their faces. Maybe having a spit stuck up your butt about the same time you realize YOU are lunch....


It takes four cervezas grande to help wash down the lunchtime grease. We all take a quarter although with five of us it is funny no one chose the amputated head. The cannibals, left to right are: Brian (UK), Simon Blackburn (UK & now USA), Shauna and Dave Taylor (Australia). Later that evening we wash the aftertaste down with another round or two. It is comforting to note there are lots of stray dog packs around town. Not that having dozens of dogs barking all night is great, but the silver lining is they haven't caught on as a "delicacy".


On a dark note, days after leaving Baņos, I talk to a man (Dave) about my age from Manchester UK. He is in Quito Ecuador trying to encourage officials to bring to justice the person/persons who murdered his wife in Baņos. She was on a 3 month tour around South America and Baņos was her last stop before flying to Quito and home. That was in January. Dave and his 22 year old son are getting help from the British Embassy but Dave reports the corruption and incompetence of local authorities initially slowed the investigation. After getting a change of jurisdiction, Dave thinks the good guy authorities now have the guy who did it and he is hoping they will get a confession. I saw a photo of his wife, Jen, on a Missing Persons bulletin the day before. Nice looking woman about 50. Professional nurse just doing something she always wanted to do. What a shame. So 99% of the time things go fine here in S.A., but that other 1% is true tragedy. This is one story that isn't urban myth.

Since I'm at the Gateway to the Amazon, me and Katie take a day tour down the canyon of the Rio Pastaza to Puyo, the town at the beginnings of the Amazon Basin. The surroundings are certainly jungle like. Everything looks impossibly green and tropical but not the hanging vines-and-snakes image I had in mind (watched too many Tarzan movies maybe). Still it is high 20's C and high humidity. While I ride it rains some but they are big warm drops. From my moving viewpoint I see the locals are growing bananas, sweet potatoes, maize, tomatoes, oranges, orchids, whatever they want. Long narrow greenhouses, high on the mountain slopes, align downhill at the same angle as the fall line. Strange. In Puyo, I see lots of one-man saw mills making orange crates out of beautiful hardwood (must be the easiest trees to find, I guess).



Katie and I explore to about 15 km out of town on a lovely little dirt road and came across this brand new restaurant in the middle of nowhere. Has only a roof, no walls except for the kitchen. Time for lunch and there are big black cumulus building close by, so we swing in. From my table (winecolored table cloth with sheet of glass on top - very fancy, and white plastic lawn chair) I can see jungle in three directions. Rain cloud too, of course. Lunch is a bowl of freshly-dead-chicken soup and a 10 year old bottle of Coca Cola, US$2.00. When the rain storm moves on, so do we.


Posted by Murray Castle at June 08, 2006 02:21 AM GMT

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